John Means, an Adjunct Faculty member of Brenau University's Kings Bay, GA campus photographed at his St. Marys, GA home. Means teaches the Legal Environment of Business and Contract Management and Ethics course.

Means to an End

What many an actor in motion pictures and television will tell you is that what they always wanted to do in their careers was direct. For John Means, who managed motion picture and television program rights and other legal matters for one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, what he always wanted to do is what he does now on the Kings Bay campus.

Around the time that John Means was completing law school in 1986, a new sitcom hit the airwaves chronicling the exploits of a teacher trying to inspire and make learning interesting for a unique mash-up of students.

That show, “Head of the Class,” title and plot, succinctly describes where Means saw himself after graduation. However, before Means would take his place behind the podium as a teacher in a school, the sitcom would complete its initial run on the ABC television network and go into reruns syndication by Warner Bros. Television Distribution. And before Means taught his first undergraduate, he would  spent time  in Burbank, Calif., conducting seminars for Warner Bros. in-house lawyers and business managers about the nuances of contracts and legal issues related to the vast Turner media holdings.

Means, who became a fulltime resident on the Georgia coast in 2007, finally got his classroom gig teaching business law, contracts management and business ethics courses at Brenau’s Kings Bay campus. Prior to his work with Warner Bros. in California, he spent about 11 years as a senior rights analyst with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., in Atlanta. Turner’s stock-in-trade was broadcasting Atlanta Braves baseball, old movies and reruns of sitcoms before it became the empire that launched CNN. Along the way the company acquired a library of thousands of movies, short subject, cartoons and television program titles which it held for its own use and licensed to others in an extremely lucrative business. A year after Means joined the company, Turner participated in one of the most significant media corporate mergers in history, joining Time Warner in what would become today the second largest media and entertainment company in the world.

His job at Turner included supervising a rights group, which among other things managed syndication of programs and movies in the company’s library for re-broadcast. Shows like “Head of the Class,” which may have lasted only a couple of seasons on one of the big networks could generate tons more revenue in re-runs on cable channels. Means’ group at Turner had to analyze the intricate details of the complex merger documents, copyright assignments and guild agreements for actors and other creative and technical talent involved in each program. The group supported Tuner and Warner Bros. In the process Means became one of only four people in the conglomerate who mastered the challenging international distribution rights framework for the film library owned by RKO, which in the late 1920s became one of the “Big Five” movie production studios in what’s known as Hollywood’s Golden Era. Not only did Means master the system, he also taught it to others in the company.

Means earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in 1980 and a law degree at Campbell University in 1986. He practiced law with three firms in Charlotte before moving to Atlanta in 1991. And after a brief doing bidding and estimation for a manufacturing company, he went to work at a legal temp agency from which he was assigned regular freelance work in the legal divisions of The Coca-Cola Company, Home Depot, Inc., Days Inn, and Turner. The latter, of course, landed him his full-time position.

However, you get the impression from talking to Means that, despite his having been in and around one of the most exciting and important corporate mergers of all time, not to mention construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of a massive media and entertainment company, that he felt a little miscast for the role.

“I remember when I passed the bar in ’86, you immediately got sworn in and herded to the State Capitol for new lawyer classes,” Means recalls. “That was some of the most boring lecturing I’ve seen or heard in my life. Basically, it was someone reading to you for an hour. I always thought if I get the chance to teach that’s not the teacher I’m going to be. I endeavor to make the classes interesting. I’d heard of lawyers who taught business law part-time, and I always wanted to do that. There was just something about teaching that interested me. I just thought it was something I’d love to do.”

He does, however, credit some of his corporate work with providing him a template for his classroom instruction and, along with the negative memories of those new lawyer classes, giving him a clear idea of who he wanted to be as a teacher.

Before he taught seminars at Turner and Warner Bros., he participated in one that stuck in his memory.

“During a two-day seminar, the instructors would have different modules that mixed theory with practical exercises. The instructor would lecture for more than 20 minutes. Then we would do an exercise. That kept it interesting. There’s nothing worse than having to listen to someone ramble on for an hour. Often times in that hour, they’re repeating the same points. If you can’t get your point across in 20 minutes, then you need to rethink what you’re doing.”

With a classroom full of adult learners, Means’ students don’t have time for “busy work,” so he tries to make sure they are able to directly connect the dots between their lessons and the world outside their classroom.

“Many, if not all of my students have jobs and families,” he says. “If they’re in school as an adult, they’re serious about learning and getting it done. Bringing practical examples to class is more valuable than just giving theory alone. My students appreciate that approach and it keeps them engaged.”

Or, as someone might say from Means’ former life, it just might keep them from changing channels.

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